Where and when can I go on holiday?

Thinking of booking a holiday in the UK or abroad? Find info on COVID restrictions, travel insurance, the ‘traffic light’ system and more. But be sure to check the relevant government websites for updates as the situation is constantly changing.

Thinking of booking a holiday in the UK or abroad? Find info on COVID restrictions, travel insurance, the ‘traffic light’ system and more. But be sure to check the relevant government websites for updates as the situation is constantly changing.

Josh Daniels
From the Travel team
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Posted 13 APRIL 2021

Can I go abroad on holiday?

Many of us have spent the past year dreaming of getting away to the sunshine. But travelling abroad to go on holiday isn’t legally allowed in England until 17 May 2021. In fact, if you break the rules you  face a fine of £5,000.

From 17 May, however, there are certain countries you’ll be able to legally visit on holiday from England without quarantining when you get back.


Can I go on holiday in the UK?

Yes. Travelling within England was given the green light on 12 April, if you book into self-contained accommodation, like a cottage, with your family members or your bubble.

Hotels are set to reopen on 17 May, with up to two families or groups of six from different households staying together. 

In Wales, single households or support bubbles can stay in self-contained holiday accommodation, hotels and B&Bs.

In Scotland, you can stay overnight in self-catered accommodation, a hotel or B&B with members of your own household or extended household. Restrictions may be lifted further on 17 May, allowing four people from two households to stay in self-catered accommodation.

In Northern Ireland, holidays in self-contained tourist accommodation, like holiday homes and caravans, is allowed. But hotels and B&Bs won’t open until at least 24 May. 

Remember that things are changing all the time, so check the relevant government website for the latest travel news.  


When will I be able to go on holiday abroad?

From 17 May, you’ll be able to legally travel for a holiday to certain destinations without having to quarantine when you get back to England. These are the places on the so-called ‘green list’, based on the traffic light system set out by the Global Travel Taskforce.  

The government says you still shouldn’t travel to countries designated amber or red for holidays. If you do travel to any of these destinations,  you’ll have to quarantine once you arrive back on UK soil. For more details, see the section on the traffic light system.

Countries are categorised based on infection rates, COVID-19 variants and vaccinations, so will be updated and changed regularly. Make sure you check the government website before you book and follow the rules for where you live: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Will I need to take a Covid test to go abroad?

Passengers will be required to take Covid tests before travelling to and returning from all destinations, including ‘green list’ countries. 

Different countries also have different entry requirements in terms of COVID vaccinations, so make sure you check before you book.

You can’t take a free NHS test for a holiday, so you’ll need to pay for private tests. Most destinations require the more accurate PCR test, which can be expensive when taken privately, rather than the fast lateral-flow test. PCR test results take longer as they have to go to a lab for analysis, so you need to make sure you can get the test done and the results back in time before you travel.

Remember that things are changing globally every day so it’s key to do your research ahead of booking anything in the UK or further afield. Check the relevant government websites for the latest information ahead of booking.

How will the traffic light system work?

The Global Travel Taskforce set out an approach to safely restarting international travel, with recommendations including a new traffic light system and the introduction of travel certification. 

Green: These are countries with:
• high rates of vaccination
• good testing in place
• low infection rates
• low prevalence of COVID-19 variants 

Travel to and from these destinations won’t require quarantine on return, but you’ll need to be tested both ahead of departure and on return home.

Amber: Requires travellers to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a test ahead of travel and two PCR tests upon returning home.

Red: Requires travellers to pay for a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel on their return. Travellers will be tested ahead of their flights as well as taking two PCR tests upon their return home.

The situation is changing all the time so check your local government advice within your devolved nation on the latest rules.

What countries are on the green list?

The government announced the green list on 7 May. The destinations on it are:
• Australia
• Brunei
• Falkland Islands
• Faroe Islands
• Gibraltar
• Iceland
• Israel and Jerusalem
• New Zealand
• Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira_
• Singapore
• South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
• St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Be aware that this list may change. Make certain you check the government website before you book and travel.

Chris King, head of travel insurance at Compare the Market says:

“As the UK moves out of lockdown, the Government has now confirmed that travel from certain countries will fall under a traffic light system – giving some hope for summer holidays this year. However, for those planning a trip abroad for later this year, travel insurance has become even more essential given the ongoing and fast-changing nature of COVID- 19 related restrictions. 

“The pandemic has changed the types of cover offered by insurers and people should consider the differences between policies when buying travel insurance. Some policies may offer cover for COVID-related disruption, for instance if your flight is cancelled or you are denied boarding due to suspected COVID symptoms, but some providers do not currently offer this 'enhanced' cover. When buying a travel insurance policy, it is even more crucial to read details carefully to ensure you know what you will be covered for. It is also important to check the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) guidance on any country you are planning to travel to as different places will have their own rules and restrictions."

Holiday checklist

Travel expert and podcast host Holly Rubenstein takes you through our essential travel checklist for a great holiday.

Check whether your passport is valid

Chances are you haven’t flown in a while, so you might be out of practice when it comes to all of those travel details you need to remember - from the clear plastic pouches for liquids to having a current passport. 

New Brexit rules for most countries require that you have at least six months left on your passport at the date of travel, so this is something you want to be on top of sooner rather than later. If you’re travelling with little ones, remember that kids’ passports last five years instead of 10, so they may need renewing, too.

Check whether you need a visa

Popular destinations from Egypt to the Maldives require UK travellers to buy visas, while travel between the UK and USA requires ESTA authorisation. Do remember to check the visa requirements before booking. 

Research the lockdown restrictions in the country you’re visiting

Countries around the globe have different rules on social distancing, mask wearing and more. Check that you can do all the things you want to enjoy, from museum-going to restaurant dining, in the country you’re planning to visit. 

Some countries have imposed curfew rules, so check if the country you’re visiting has them and if they apply to tourists too.

Double – make that triple – check cancellation policies before booking

This applies to both flights and accommodation. With things changing so swiftly, you’ll want to cover your bases before booking or you could risk losing your money.  

This is particularly important when looking at different offerings from package holiday companies, where you’ll stumble across phrases like ‘package refund guarantee’ or ‘free changes’. Check exactly what’s meant by those promises, as different companies offer different interpretations. Make sure you understand the full process required in order to amend or cancel your holiday booking, as well as the circumstances that enable you to benefit from any guarantees.

Did you know….?

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), you should be entitled to a full refund under most circumstances if lockdown rules make the holiday illegal.

Apply for your free GHIC card

Did you know you’re entitled to a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)? The GHIC can cover you for state healthcare in EU countries in cases where you can’t wait for treatment until you return to the UK. They don’t cover private treatment.

The GHIC is replacing the European Health Insurance Care (EHIC). EHICs are no longer available, however, those in date are still valid. 

GHIC can be used for A&E trips and routine maternity care. Most people can apply for the card on the NHS website


Travel insurance

Travel insurance is always important for holidays – who doesn’t want to feel secure if something happens while you’re away or you need to cancel your trip last-minute? 

COVID-19 restrictions and rapidly changing rules make travel insurance even more paramount: you may want to make sure you’re getting the insurance policy you want, which covers all the pandemic-related situations you would like it to. 

Check the details on what happens if you fall ill and you’re abroad – will you need to quarantine? Will you be covered for the medical care you need?

You may also want to make sure you’re covered for additional transport and accommodation expenses if you need to extend your trip as a result of coronavirus. 

Most premiums should cover cancellation but it does vary by provider, so check carefully before booking. However, most insurance providers won’t cover the cost of quarantine on your return, so please do check before you book.

Find out more about travel insurance with enhanced Covid cover

If the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advises against all but essential travel, then under some policies, your insurance would be void (even if the trip is essential). If you need to take an essential trip then make sure to check your insurance policy.

If you need to travel against FCDO advice, you may want to check with your insurance provider to see if you will be covered.

Know the rules

Travel rules are constantly changing. Make sure you check the relevant government websites before you book and travel.

How to compare travel insurance with Compare the Market

Compare the Market can show you a range of travel insurance quotes. Just answer a few questions about the type of trip you’re booking, whether you need additional cover for (water sports, winter sports, cruises), as well as more detailed questions, like the maximum you can claim per person for medical bills, cancellation or baggage cover

Make sure you disclose any pre-existing medical conditions

The level of cover you’ll receive is summarised on the Compare the Market results page when you search, so you can find the right cover for you. If you want enhanced COVID-19 cover just tick the box on the results page when you’re comparing, then check the policy details so you know exactly what you’ll be covered for. 

Remember it’s all in the detail, so read all the small print. Check the insurance information document before you buy to make sure you have the right level of protection – all the information is on Compare the Market’s quote results page.